Always About Something Else

Some things go without saying but perhaps need to be said anyway. Never date a psychotherapist. Sure, she was a tall and elegant redhead, and nicely British, but somehow everything was always about something else. No one wants to be told of the hidden and latent subconscious conflicts that drive their specific behaviors, no matter how carefully explained. Dinner and a movie will do, but this was after the second divorce and this is Los Angeles. One expects the unusual. The lovely and odd midwife to the stars was even worse – the tales of celebrities in labor were a bit much. That wasn’t exactly romantic. Samuel Johnson famously said that for a man to marry a second time represented the triumph of hope over experience, but was silent on marrying a third time, and he would have been befuddled by modern Los Angeles. So there would be no third marriage. Living alone turned out to be pleasant enough, and at least that psychotherapist wasn’t a psychiatrist, or even worse, one of those post-Freudian psychoanalysts. Everything is not always about something else. Even Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and anyway, the current array of amazing psychotropic medications can pretty much fix what troubles you, one way or the other. The whole industry of exploring how everything is always about something else may simply be a way for meddling busybodies to call themselves professionals and make a whole lot of money.

The same could be said of political pundits, explaining the ins and outs of what’s really going on. You see, there’s always something else that’s really going on, behind the scenes, some hidden conflict no one else can see but they can. Perhaps it was true that George Bush had issues with his father, and thus with his own manhood, for which we all paid the price. Newt Gingrich was fond of the theory that what really drove all of Obama’s behavior was that Kenyan anti-colonial mindset that Obama had picked up from his father, even if Obama had only met his estranged father once, briefly – “This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

Yeah, well, whatever – but then political pundits on the evangelical right say that God’s hand is behind everything that happens, although why God would care about our current specific marginal tax rates seems puzzling. Still there’s a whole industry built around this sort of thing – professional punditry – and these guys do make a whole lot of money. The New York Times pays David Brooks and Thomas Freidman well, and the Wall Street Journal keeps the dreamy and somewhat scattered Peggy Noonan comfortable on the Upper East Side, living the good life. Of course they all hate statisticians like Nate Silver, who say that if you want to know what’s really happening screw the startling theories and look at the policies and polling data, and who always get everything right. Meddling busybodies who call themselves professionals know an existential threat when they see one. Now they have to explain why Mitt Romney lost, after they sensed that he would win handily, as they were seeing things that no one else saw. Peggy Noonan is currently having real problems with this.

The worst possible thing in these circumstances would be to have one of these professional pundits be an actual psychiatrist, well versed in those hidden and latent subconscious conflicts that drive specific behaviors, seeing what no one else but them can see. Actually there is one of those – Charles Krauthammer over on Fox News – once widely known for his work on manic disorders and later one of the key authors of the Reagan Doctrine – that idea to fund covert action around the world to mess with the Soviets’ ambitions, even if that funding was often quite illegal. It was always about seeing things that no one else saw.

Now he’s at it again, sensing what Obama is REALLY doing in these negotiations on the fiscal cliff:

He’s been using this, and I must say with great skill – and ruthless skill and success – to fracture and basically shatter the Republican opposition… His objective from the very beginning was to break the will of the Republicans in the House, and to create an internal civil war. And he’s done that.

And here you thought this was all about economic issues. That’s foolish. This was always about breaking the Republican Party:

Krauthammer said Obama has been pushing the GOP since winning reelection to focus on raising tax rates because he knew it would be a sore subject between differing factions of his Republican opposition, and his interest in scoring a partisan political victory outweighs his desire to seriously deal with the national debt.

This was all a clever ruse, and the only appropriate response comes from Wonkette:

Oh, Obama. We tried so hard to keep your secret under wraps. We figured that no one would ever figure out how devious you were. We figured we could keep your real plan a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma all mixed together inside a delicious smoked brisket burrito. Sadly, we were wrong. Charles Krauthammer is just too gosh-darned perceptive and has seen through all our protective layers. Now the world will know that B. Barry Bamz is all about dividing, conquering, and stone cold civil-war-starting…

And there’s this:

Oh my god! Krauthammer knows how dastardly the democrats are! They’re going to try to achieve their governance goals by getting votes from across the aisle. THE HORROR! That is totally like a civil war. It is worse than the actual factual Civil War even. No one in history has ever done this before. Well, except for the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 1997 Bipartisan Budget Agreement and pretty much EVERY LAW EVER. …

So Obama has, post-election, been pushing the GOP to do what he said he’d do all along during the election. He’s been pushing the GOP to do what a majority of Americans want. Doesn’t he understand that being partisan is only okay when Republicans do it? Much like the fact that assertive women are ball-busters while assertive men are confident, assertive Republicans are standing up for freedom and assertive Democrats are wrecking the country with their partisan partisan-ness.

Of course Krauthammer was chatting with Sean Hannity so we got this:

Hannity wondered if Obama was in more serious danger of tarnishing his legacy than the Republicans.

Sean, never date a psychotherapist, much less a psychiatrist. It’ll mess with your head. You’ll end up believing the oddest things. Walk away, now.

This is no more than walking away from impressive professional-sounding nonsense, which is nonsense nonetheless. Obama is in no trouble with the fiscal cliff negotiations. Everyone knows who is doing nothing to fix things, in spite of what Mitch McConnell said:

“Nothing can move forward in regards to our budget crisis unless Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell are willing to participate in coming up with a bipartisan plan,” [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid said. “So far, they are radio-silent.”

McConnell retorted that Republicans have been eager to work with Obama. After one-on-one talks between Obama and Boehner failed to produce a broad deficit-reduction package last week, McConnell said it is now the president’s responsibility to put forward a new plan. “Republicans bent over backwards,” he said. “We wanted an agreement. But we had no takers. The phone never rang.” …

Boehner’s message was that “we were going to wait for the Senate to take up the bill that we passed six months ago,” said one Republican lawmaker who was on the call. “Quit trying to do this leadership-negotiating thing.”

Kevin Drum points out the obvious:

Republicans bent over backwards! Boehner apparently did his bending over by never once proposing a detailed plan and never once being willing to publicly tell us what spending cuts he wanted. Then he failed to get passage of even a PR stunt and simply gave up. McConnell, for his part, did his bending over backwards by retreating to his office and never once poking his head out for four consecutive weeks.

But maybe “one Republican lawmaker” has the right idea. Why bother negotiating with McConnell, who so far has shown no inclination to want responsibility for anything? Maybe Obama and Reid should simply come up with a modestly different package than the most recent Democratic proposal and see if they can round up seven Republican votes for it..

That might work, but Drum suggests that Mitch McConnell will almost certainly filibuster anything that Obama proposes, as he is surely not willing to bend that far backward. There are all sorts of theories about what’s really going on, but sometimes a cigar is only a cigar or something like that.

It seems Obama has had enough of this nonsense:

President Barack Obama tasked the United States Senate with trying to resolve the “fiscal cliff” in the waning hours before the New Year following a meeting between congressional leaders and the president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will lead the last-minute effort to avert the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect on Jan. 1 unless Congress acts.

Watch the video at the link, where Obama explains what just happened. Obama is visibly exasperated, even if he says he is modestly optimistic. He told Reid and McConnell to work something out, right now. There was no mention of John Boehner. He’s useless. He can’t even get his own caucus in line. The guys on the Senate side can come up with something – each actually said that was possible. It may die in the House – Boehner’s wild Tea Party folks may demand that whatever the Senate comes up with not come to the floor of the House at all. They could force Boehner to table this hypothetical save-the-nation compromise, but at least this is something.

Talking Points Memo has the best analysis of the dynamics of all this:

Here’s how that threat would play out. Taxes will automatically go up on all income earners next week if a deal isn’t struck. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will put forth legislation to bring taxes back down for middle incomes. That’ll leave Senate Republicans with a choice: either let it move forward and pass, or go on record filibustering a middle class tax cut as the nation watches. Both bad choices…

Of course, that still means House Republicans would need to drop their obstruction, which leadership has steadfastly refused to do. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) held firm during Friday’s meeting on his position that he won’t act until the Senate passes or amends House-approved legislation to avert the cliff, his office said. His members vigorously oppose any tax hike from current levels.

But Democrats are betting on the fact that with the public tuned in to the unfolding fiasco, the GOP’s resistance to lowering middle class taxes – and permitting rates on incomes above $250,000 to rise – will be unsustainable in the new year.

“I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities, as long as those leaders actually allow it to come to a vote,” Obama said at the news conference. “If members of the House or the Senate want to vote no, they can.”

That’s a dare:

In other words, Obama isn’t hesitating to exercise what Democrats correctly recognized as their upper hand on the issue, not only because they have the ability to block any outcome they dislike but because polls say the public is likely to blame Republicans if the nation plunges over the cliff.

For now, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been tasked with hashing out a deal, which both chambers will be prepared to vote on. Obama recently offered to raise the tax cut threshold to $400,000 and cut future Social Security benefits, among other spending cuts, in order to secure a deal in time. Boehner turned it down, demanding fewer tax hikes or more entitlement cuts. Negotiations subsequently fell apart.

Obama is offering no such concessions now. Just do it, or don’t. Everyone is watching.

The only question is how locked-in to their professional pundits the Republicans are right now, as Andrew Sullivan notes:

Senator Ben Nelson said recently that many Republicans have yet to accept the presidential election of 2008, let alone the re-election of 2012. I see no real evidence to the contrary. Whether this is due to race, or culture, or fanaticism (they regarded Bill Clinton as illegitimate as well) I do not pretend to know. We know also, of course, that the corrupt gerrymandering of House districts allows those with power to rig the system so they can retain power – even when they have no broad public support. And we know that the whitest, rightest part of the Republican base controls the primaries and is determined to destroy any member of Congress who votes against the religion of permanent insolvency – which is what “no-revenue-increases-ever” means as we near a demographic wave of older folks. What a perverse cause: a party dedicated above all to the permanent, chronic insolvency of the American government. The cuts they need without any new revenues would simply end the welfare state in America and would never be tolerated by the middle classes in practice. And tax reform will only get us so far.

This is what happens with listening to the likes of Krauthammer, the former psychiatrist who sees what no one else sees. Sullivan simply sees an extension of an old war:

This, then, remains a country in a Cold Civil War – not far off the geographical contours of the first, but with the inheritors of the Confederacy concentrated in the South and now also with serious pockets of absolutists in the more rural parts of the country as a whole. Maybe it was precisely because Barack Obama campaigned against partisan polarization that the GOP has decided to ratchet it up. The right-wing media-industrial complex – from Limbaugh to Hannity to Drudge – earns money from conflict, not compromise. And these lucrative media institutions have taken over from what’s left of the conservative intelligentsia (three decades ago a flourishing, growing and open group, but now shrinking fast into calcified, partisan hacks).

So we are where we are:

It feels like I’ve been watching it for much of my adult life. And it’s true that if they simply retain total unity and resist any compromise on anything, they can help destroy this country’s economy – and the world’s. The Constitution gives them that power, even though the founders warned precisely against the kind of purism and factionalism that now threatens the stability of the entire country. Since their ideology is all about creative destruction… what do they have to lose by wreaking havoc?

We can hope that public opinion exerts its pressure. But when the popular will is exactly what the gerrymandering is supposed to inhibit, there are limits to controlling this rogue faction, refusing to accept the legitimacy of a re-elected president or the urgency of compromise for the sake of the country as a whole. All to protect the very wealthy and successful from providing an ounce of extra sacrifice in tackling the debt, even as they demand everyone else, especially the poor and vulnerable, take a hit.

We can hope that public opinion exerts its pressure, but Alex Pareene sees things differently:

Basically, the Republican “strategy” on the current self-inflicted looming debt crisis is to constantly sabotage themselves and, eventually, the nation as a whole. Either they will just totally lose completely, or they’ll somehow manage, through nihilism and intransigence, to pull out a deeply unpopular “victory” that will end up hurting the already crappy economy. So, basically, everyone agrees that they’re idiots and they’re screwing themselves. Even people who think the GOP’s “let’s be very loudly irresponsible and then lose horribly” strategy is more canny than it looks agree that it hurts the “national brand” of the party and will likely lead to them becoming a permanent minority party.

I think, though, that regardless of how completely lost the Republican party is – and they are well and truly lost, and not currently “negotiating” with anything resembling a coherent plan or unified voice – they will emerge from the current mess unscathed.

All they have to do is wait a bit:

The GOP currently can’t scrape together national popular vote majorities, and they keep losing gimme Senate races, but that’ll self-correct in a couple of years, even if they spend those couple of years acting like lunatics and purposely blowing up the economy. Americans don’t really punish political parties for longer than a few election cycles, and they save that punishment for truly monumental disasters. In the meantime, Republicans still control a majority of state legislatures, and they have complete control of the government in 24 states. They have the power to enact the entire conservative agenda in nearly half the country.

They’re fine. If they blow up the economy, do you know who people – and much of the press – will blame? “Congress.” Or “partisanship.” Or “dysfunction.” Or Obama. Bob Woodward already wrote a book about how irresponsible it was for Obama not to somehow force House Republicans to act reasonably and rationally, and he will definitely be happy to write another one.

The Republicans will also do what needs to be done:

I know I have been among those who’ve written that demographics screw the GOP in the medium-term, but they’ll find a way to fix it, either by getting objectively less awful on some issues (the good option!), with purely cosmetic fixes (the likely option!) or by finding a way to carve out a new narrow majority without changing much of anything (the “maybe economically prosperous gay and Latino people who hate taxes will suck it up and vote for us” option). The idea of the Republican Party getting replaced, like the Whigs, in our lifetimes, is slim. And unless that happens, they’ll return to power, because America thinks one-party rule is unnatural. If they survived Nixon, they’ll survive Bush and Boehner.

They’ll probably win the House and Senate and presidency in 2020 or so, and in the meantime Josh Barro offers this:

For Republicans, losing the political fight isn’t a downside of the strategy. It is the strategy.

Republicans are eventually going to have to agree to a compromise deal that is acceptable to a broad swath of Democrats and that substantially raises taxes. Their base is going to hate that. But if they drag their feet and get smacked around enough on the way to the deal, they will be able to sell the idea that they had no choice but to cave. …

A good fight – or at least the show of one – placates the conservative base and helps Republicans avoid primary challenges.

Everyone loves the underdog, and martyrs, always losing the good fight, are noble. Ask any psychiatrist. It’s true.

Or don’t ask any psychiatrist. Settle for dinner and a movie. Everything is not always about something else.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Fiscal Cliff, Obama Traps his Opponents, Republican Civil War, Republican Obstructionism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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